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A study of capillary forces as a gripping principle

Pierre Lambert (ULB, CAD‐CAM Department, Brussels, Belgium)
Alain Delchambre (ULB, CAD‐CAM Department, Brussels, Belgium)

Assembly Automation

ISSN: 0144-5154

Article publication date: 1 December 2005




This work aimed at studying the use of capillary forces as a gripping principle in the handling of sub‐millimetric sized components. The goal was to present the results as design rules of so‐called capillary grippers.


Each parameter (surrounding environment, materials, volume of liquid, separation distance, gripper geometry and gripper size, relative orientation of the gripper with respect to the component) has been quantified, either numerically or experimentally. In some validation cases, both means have been used.


The capillary forces can be modified between a maximum Fmax and a minimum Fmin so that a component with any mass m between Fmin/g and Fmax/g can be picked up and released.

Research limitations/implications

By comparison with some existing capillary grippers prototypes, this work is only a theoretical and experimental study. Nevertheless, its originality lies in the exhaustive study and quantification of all parameters so that most of the capillary grippers of the literature can be explained or improved with these results.

Practical implications

The main implication of the capillary gripping is that it provides an alternative to existing gripping principles (vacuum grippers, tweezers). This principle is strong enough (a few mN) and well adapted to pick up components with only one free accessible surface. The scaling laws are the most favorable (FL). It provides a “soft” picking, avoiding high contact forces.


The originality lies in the exhaustive quantification of the role of each parameter. These results can be used by researchers and designers.



Lambert, P. and Delchambre, A. (2005), "A study of capillary forces as a gripping principle", Assembly Automation, Vol. 25 No. 4, pp. 275-283.



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Copyright © 2005, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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